Initially, just 11 cars are heading for the UK, being handed over to select fleet customers for assessment. It is expected that as many as 50 cars will be imported to the UK in 2016.
This is a similar strategy adopted by Toyota with the UK launch of the original Prius in late-2000, where initial imports were in small numbers. President and Managing Director of Toyota GB, Paul Van der Burgh confirmed the plan, admitting that it is not expecting an overnight success.
"We're on a learning curve" he admitted. "The infrastructure has to grow and the expectation is, that by getting real experience on that we will get faster. We do see it (Mirai) as a car of the future and we do expect exponential growth to happen, but before that we need the right conditions. The infrastructure is not there at the moment, but if you wait for the infrastructure, you'll never learn anything.
"You need government and our infrastructure partners aligned with what we are trying to do. In Japan, for example, hydrogen has had huge support, and that has allowed the technology to accelerate."
The Mirai is the culmination of two decades of research from Toyota. The production version of the saloon car, which seats four and offers a range of 300 miles from its twin high-pressue hydrogen tanks (700bar/70MPa) stored under the floor, was revealed at the recent Paris motor show
The hydrogen tanks fuel a fuel cell, which powers a permanent magnet electric motor to drive the front wheels. The Mirai emits only water vapour at the tailpipe. Power for the system is understood to be around 135bhp, Toyota making comparisons to a typical petrol-engined family saloon, and a refuel of the hydrogen tanks takes around three minutes.
The most recent concept version was at the Tokyo motor show in 2013, and the production version has stayed remarkably similar to it.
Toyota believes it can popularise hydrogen as a fuel just as it has pioneered hybrid technology in the past 16 years. However, there is a small but very vocal opposition in the US to the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel because much of today’s hydrogen is made by ‘steam reforming’ methane gas. Tesla boss Elon Musk has already called fuel cells “a load of rubbish”.
The name Mirai means 'future' in Japanese. In a speech announcing the name of the car, Toyota boss Akio Toyoda said: “We are at a turning point in automotive history. A turning point where people will embrace a new, environmentally friendly car that is a pleasure to drive.
“A turning point where a four-door sedan can travel 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refuelled in under five minutes and emit only water vapour. A turning point that represents many years and countless hours of work by our team to create a car that redefines the industry.
"All of us at Toyota believe in a future that will be safer, greener and easier for everyone. We imagined a world filled with vehicles that would diminish our dependence on oil and reduce harm to the environment. It was a bold, but inspiring goal and today it is a reality.
“Our fuel cell vehicle runs on hydrogen that can be made from virtually anything, even garbage. It has a fuel cell that creates enough electricity to power a house for about a week.
“This is a car that lets you have it all with no compromises. As a test driver, I knew this new fuel cell vehicle had to be truly fun to drive – and believe me, it is. It has a low centre of gravity, which gives it very dynamic handling.